I’m sitting at my keyboard after more than a month away wondering if I can still do this. Writing, I mean. Like everything, it takes practice. If you stop for long, you stop being good at it.
What’s really holding me up, though, is not just how to write but what to write.
I’ve spent more than a month in a spiritual fetal position. And now, back in the world, I’m wondering what was the use? Not in a whiny way. Struggle like that is never wasted.
Yet, looking back, I can’t even tell you exactly what brought on what only can be described as a dark night of the soul. Had I been able to write, you would have heard all about it. But all the huge emotions faded from memory before I made it back to the computer.
What hasn’t faded is the realisation that, for the first thirty-some years of my life, I learned to prioritise the wrong things. Now, every season of darkness like this seems to be about re-ordering my priorities to match more closely with God’s.
In case you’ve never experienced it, reordering your most fundamental, subconscious priorities is hard work. (Hard enough that I felt like I spent the month in bed. I didn’t. But the idea was appealing, for sure.)
Reordering Subconscious Priorities is HARD
It’s impossible to hold everything as ‘most’ important. By nature, if we’re putting something at the top of the list, we’re demoting something else.
Understandably, God was never at the top of my list growing up. We weren’t Christian. Regardless of good excuses, though, demoting God is idolatry. And idolatry stunts your spiritual growth.
Great. What now? I can’t go back and undo the past. All I can do is give the present – and future – to God.
Logic says that there’s no such thing as not having priorities. So, if God wasn’t on my list, what was?
That’s a hard question to answer. My deepest priorities were so ingrained, so automatic, I couldn’t tell what they were or how I was serving them.
(Make no mistake, we serve whatever we prioritise. I’d even say that, by definition, our very top priority is an idol.)
Enter one of Karen Stubbs mom’s bible studies.
I’ve known for a while that I struggle with letting the behaviours of my most important people define – and, therefore, control – me. But during one of Karen’s talks, she asked a question that illuminated just how much control I was giving away.
She set up three tables to illustrate the importance of having right priorities and filled them with items from her home representing her value system. While she had great advice about what should be on all three tables, I never got past the first.
Karen called everything she put on the first table Non-Negotiables. I could see that her Non-Negotiables were sensible and godly. And I had no idea what was on that table for me.
What Do You Have on Your Non-Negotiable Table?
Karen had things like her Bible, her wedding picture and pictures of her kids on hers.
At home that night, I was still not sure of what was on mine.
I pictured one of the tall café tables Karen had used, empty, awaiting my Non-Negotiables. I wanted to put my Bible on there like she had, but it wouldn’t stay.
When the image of what was really on my table finally came into focus, I felt like someone had ripped my skin off.
The only thing on my Non-Negotiable table was my husband.
Specifically, my husband’s happiness. Or, rather, his unhappiness. My number one priority was making sure that hubby wasn’t unhappy in any way.
I knew that was very wrong.
But, how to change, what the next step should be didn’t come to me right away. I just moved through the next days feeling like my skin was missing. Like every rough part of life could touch my most tender heart.
That’s how God works in my life. Great revelation, now sit with it. Feel how badly your plan is working for you.
As it turns out, it wasn’t actually my husband on that table. It was me.
My highest priority was my little girl heart. That’s how I’ve experienced idolatry stunting my growth. It’s not enough to say that we love God more than anything else. We have to actually hold him in the top spot.
There was a little girl place inside me that decided long ago that no one would take care of me and keep me safe. I decided that I had to do it. I didn’t believe all that I know about God being good even when things are going badly.
My Kind of Safety
In my infantile wisdom, the way to be safe was to make sure everyone around me was always nice. Safety was in kindness. Everything else meant mortal danger. And I’ve spent my life since putting anyone close to me in the top spot on my priority list in a very negative way.
A huge portion of my personal resources has been squandered in trying to avoid negative feedback from others. With so much potential, I used all of my capacity to do a job that God tells us is his.
In fact, just Google “scripture about God keeping us safe”. There are only about a gazillion ways that he tells us that he is our “refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
Thankfully, once he reveals the places where I’m not trusting him and lets me feel the pain I’m causing myself and him, he usually moves me. Maybe not a mile, but an inch.
He moves me far enough towards trusting him to do what he promises, that I can have hope that he will keep going. I can’t put my mind on that hope every second that I need it, but it always seems to come back, time and again.
Life would be so much easier if I could just apply my considerable personal energies towards believing only what God says instead of the lies that I adopted 40-some years ago.
But, prioritising easy would be just as wrong as prioritising kind. Both focus on self. It’s counter-intuitive, but God is showing me how much more peace there is in not leaning on my own understanding, my own feelings, and my own comfort.
His priority is that I actually humbling myself to follow him.
And, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask… What does God want on your Non-Negotiables table? And, what is actually on it right now?
If you care to share, the comments would be a great place for your story to encourage someone else.